By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
Football news has slowed down considerably after the earth shattering trade of Odell Beckham Jr. to the Browns. It is no surprise that the news has slowed down because the focus starts moving to the draft as teams have filled roster holes through free agency, now teams turn to finalize all their draft boards and go over situational strategy.
A few big names remain on the open market but by and large the meat has been picked off the bone of NFL free agency. But free agency is not where teams win Super Bowls, it is an opportunity for teams to fix their rosters ahead of the draft to avoid tunnel vision when selecting players. In non-NFL news, the Alliance of American Football stirred up a little bit of news with an old headliner looking at his last chance for redemption.
Moving forward in NFL news, expect a lot of draft rumors of all kinds but especially with the number one overall pick and what the Cardinals will do. Perhaps a few surprise cuts or a couple intriguing signings will hit the transaction wire but the draft is about to dominate headlines.
In a month teams will begin holding off-season workouts then following OTAs are mini camps after the draft and in less than four months training camps will begin to open.
Wanna know how wild the past week has been, judge it by this metric: right now, the lowly Cleveland Browns, who went 0-16 in 2017, are considered one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl in 2019.
The league has generated a lot of buzz about the upcoming season and still more headlines are going to come. Unfortunately the news this week around the NFL has been less noteworthy since the Ravens signed safety Earl Thomas and Mark Ingram.
For example, on Wednesday, the Bears resigned punter Patrick O’Donnell to a two-year contract and reserve quarterback Tyler Bray to a one-year deal. But big news came on Thursday, as a star pass rusher came off the free agency board when the Colts signed edge rusher Justin Houston. Houston can bring a huge impact to the Colts if he can stay healthy.
Houston has really struggled to stay on the field the last four years missing 21 games compared to his first four seasons where he only missed a total of five games. But Houston has produced when he has been on the field getting nine sacks last year in 12 games. The Colts as a team had a total of 38 sacks last year which was tied for 19th. Some other notable names are still available on the market that will likely be announced over the course of the next month.
Names such as defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, tight end Jared Cook and running back Jay Ajayi are still available, but reports are surfacing that Cook is going to sign with the Saints. The NFL free agency period has certainly quited down but not because of lack of movement, just because all the big names have all signed.
Free agency can take another turn after the draft when even more cuts will come, some of which could potentially make an impact.
AAF Round Up
A needed jolt of publicity got sent through the AAF last week when ultra-famous but hard luck quarterback Johnny Manziel was signed by the Memphis Express.
Memphis currently owns the worst record in the AAF, with a mark of 1-5. The Express have likely dug themselves in too much of a hole for a playoff run, but having Manziel would certainly bring attention and possible ticket sales. Manziel has been on a comeback bid ever since joining a lower level spring football league last year.
Manziel then went on to the Canadian Football League and originally signed with the Hamilton Tigers-Cats before being traded to the Montreal Alouettes. In late February Manziel was released by the Alouettes and effectively the league. The CFL mandated his release due to a violation in Manziel’s original agreement of conduct with the CFL when he first entered the league. Manziel has his eyes set on returning to the NFL and with his exit from the CFL, its clear that he better capitalize on what time he has left in the AAF.
As for the rest of the league, Week 7 is upon the eight teams of the AAF. Only three weeks remain after this weekend’s action before it is playoff time. The most impressive team so far has been the Orlando Apollos, who are coached by Steve Spurrier. They have a whopping +67 point differential, which is more than double the next best team.
If the season ended today the playoff teams would be the Apollos joined by the Birmingham Iron, San Antonio Commanders and San Diego Fleet, but plenty is left to be decided before season’s end after the weekend of April 14.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR